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Way Out West: The off-site team day

Away Day

Two roads diverged in a wood. And we — we took the one less trav­eled by. And that has made all the dif­fer­ence*, because the cab dri­ver strug­gled to find the right address and so we start­ed our first ses­sion about 10 min­utes late. 

We soon made up the time. 

The 2019 Clear Review off-site team day, star­ring all 19 employ­ees and senior man­agers, was held in a secret under­ground bunker care­ful­ly dis­guised as a pleas­ant coun­try house just out­side Bath. We breathed fresh, whole­some air. We con­gre­gat­ed on the south-fac­ing ter­race between ses­sions to take in the gen­tly rolling green­ery. We scut­tled back inside when it start­ed to rain. 

Full dis­clo­sure here: I am a rel­a­tive­ly new mem­ber of Clear Review. This was my sec­ond day with the busi­ness. I’m sure there are peo­ple who find it easy to bond and share ideas with a cou­ple of dozen strangers. I am not usu­al­ly one of them. And yet the enthu­si­asm and good­will was infec­tious. Even I found myself shar­ing and discussing. 

It became very clear, very quick­ly, that Clear Review’s growth — and the almost dis­turbing­ly large num­ber of endorse­ments from our clients — was root­ed in these smart peo­ple build­ing and refin­ing a prod­uct with real insights into human nature. It’s not just a nice piece of soft­ware that a few entre­pre­neurs cooked up: this thing is root­ed in years of expe­ri­ence and years of think­ing about how peo­ple behave. It works, and it works because the peo­ple build­ing it know their stuff through and through.

We talked about the rea­sons why we’d been suc­cess­ful over the last two years. We looked at the refine­ments and updates we want­ed to bring to the Clear Review prod­uct. We dis­cussed how we would spend our next round of invest­ment, the growth we were aim­ing for and what suc­cess would look like. At every stage — and I real­ly can’t over­state this — man­agers and employ­ees talked to each oth­er. Peo­ple explained why they were doing what they were doing, and why that was impor­tant. There was a sense of par­tic­i­pa­tion. Peo­ple have a real emo­tion­al stake in this.


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And you can see it hap­pen­ing. There’s an atti­tude here that seems to say: we’re in a high-growth start-up and we’ve made this thing that lets peo­ple engage with each oth­er, give prop­er feed­back, com­mu­ni­cate more effec­tive­ly and more trans­par­ent­ly — and so we have to work like that, because it would be hyp­o­crit­i­cal to do oth­er­wise. As some­one that hasn’t expe­ri­enced that sort of envi­ron­ment before… it does work. It works because every­one is com­mit­ted to doing it. 

We had a ses­sion on men­tal health and well­be­ing from head of Cus­tomer Suc­cess Sean Ruane, who spoke mov­ing­ly about his own strug­gles and how he’s worked on over­com­ing them. I was remind­ed of my first job, at the adver­tis­ing agency CDP, where every vis­it to the bath­room was accom­pa­nied by the sound of some­one sob­bing in a cubi­cle and where emo­tion­al sup­port took the form of a terse pull your­self togeth­er”. Times have changed. 

We also had a val­ues work­shop run by the lumi­nous­ly charis­mat­ic Natasha Wal­lace, who’s Clear Review’s new head of well­be­ing and per­for­mance. As some­one who nor­mal­ly runs from the room scream­ing when the words com­pa­ny cul­ture” are men­tioned, I had steeled myself for Post-its and word asso­ci­a­tion, but what we got was an engross­ing ses­sion based around Jere­my Dean’s Emo­tion­al Cul­ture deck. The find­ings form the begin­ning of a cul­tur­al man­i­festo, which will be cru­cial this year as we look to dou­ble in size. Near­ly all of you read­ing this will know a sto­ry about — or have expe­ri­enced first hand — a com­pa­ny that lost its per­son­al­i­ty as it grew. Clear Review is tak­ing this incred­i­bly seri­ous­ly. So we’re cre­at­ing some­thing we can set down, get every­one to sign, then make sure we live by as we bring new peo­ple on board and devel­op as a team.

And then we all made din­ner togeth­er and some of the peo­ple got slight­ly drunk. Also, in its way, a val­ues workshop. 

*With apolo­gies to Robert Frost.

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